NTS LogoSkeptical News for 22 November 2004

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Monday, November 22, 2004

Will new wave of fundamentalism imperil science?


Sunday, November 21, 2004
News Staff Reporter

Amid the discussion of moral values that followed the reelection of President George Bush, some science teachers are raising concerns that religious fundamentalists will increase their efforts to suppress the teaching of evolution in public high school classrooms, said University of Michigan biologist David Mindell, who spoke at the recent high school biology teachers meeting in Chicago. Mindell and other scientists have been working with high schools nationwide to preserve the freedom to teach science.

Q. Are religious groups trying to influence what students study in high schools?

A. Yes. There are groups and individuals who are motivated by their religious beliefs to promote the teaching of creationist views in high school biology classes. They believe that all life forms on the planet have been specially created by a supernatural being. Some groups are well organized and well funded, such as the Discovery Institute based in Seattle. And there are small groups or even individuals who seek to influence or get elected to school boards or state offices to impose legislation concerning high school science standards, curricula or textbooks.

I am not aware of any groups locally that are trying to influence science teaching, but on the state level, an attempt to introduce legislation to change the wording about science standards was initiated a few years ago, but did not succeed.

Q. Why this new effort to influence curriculum?

A. Part of the reason is the perception that evolution somehow threatens their views, values and way of life. Some people feel that accepting the fact of evolution includes denying the existence of God, and that is simply not the case. There are many people, including many scientists, who believe in God and accept the historical fact of evolution, meaning common ancestry for all species.

Q. What is the science of evolution?

A. It is the study of the history of life on earth, going back about 3.8 billion years, and the mechanisms of change by which life has diversified and become adapted to its changing environments.

Q. How important is the teaching of evolution?

A. Evolution can improve our understanding of human biology and behavior. It can save lives by helping to understand where new human pathogens, like HIV virus, come from and how to reduce their transmission.

It also can help scientists understand the evolution of the flu virus, which is important in designing vaccines. Development of vaccines often relies on artificially evolving the pathogens to the extent that they are too weak to make people sick, but potent enough to elicit an immune response and manufacture of beneficial antibodies.

Q. What is the relationship between evolutionary science and religion?

A. For the most part, mainstream religions have accepted evolution, just as they have come to accept the view that Earth orbits the sun, rather than the reverse. Many Christian churches have accepted the basic scientific facts of evolution. Difficulties arise when creationists apply literal interpretation to passages from the Bible. For example, there are two different creation stories in Genesis, with different sequences of events, and they can't both be literally true.

Q. Can religious groups restrict school curriculum?

A. Anyone can try. Public school education standards are usually controlled by local boards. If a board decides to use textbooks that exclude evolution, it can make the change. Some anti-evolutionists and their textbooks advocate teaching both creationist and evolutionary views in schools. Teaching both views undermines scientific education because creationists rely on religious views to interpret nature, and if they encounter a difficult subject, they claim supernatural power as the cause instead of searching for evidence.

Q. What areas locally or nationwide are more likely to see changes in high school curriculum?

A. Smaller, more rural school districts are more readily influenced by anti-evolution activists because the population may be smaller and include fewer people with different viewpoints. However, change can happen anywhere. Kansas, Ohio, Wisconsin and Montana have all been in the news lately for attempts to bring religious views into high school science classes.

Q. What do scientists rely on to protect the study of evolution?

A. They rely on parents and citizens who value science education to speak out against legislating teaching of religious views in science classes. They also rely on the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution because it enforces the separation of church and state. Over the years, courts have denied many attempts to mandate teaching of creationist views in public school science classes, finding them to be religious in nature and not scientific. Science and religion should be and can be allies in promoting the welfare of people.

Khalil E. Hachem can be reached at khachem@annarbornews.com or (734) 482-3225.

© 2004 Ann Arbor News

Pa. town puts Darwin on notice


Posted on Sun, Nov. 21, 2004

By Kathy Boccella

Inquirer Staff Writer

In Dover Area High School biology classes, the Creator will get equal billing with Charles Darwin.

Make that a creator.

The rural, 3,600-student school district, 20 miles south of Harrisburg, is the first in the nation to require the teaching of "intelligent design," a theory that holds that the complexity of the natural world offers overwhelming evidence of a supernatural force at work.

Who or what that force is, no one is saying, but some people are wondering whether Dover could become the catalyst for a modern-day Scopes "monkey trial."

"I don't know anybody who has been quite bold enough to go this far," Witold Walczak, legal director of the Pennsylvania American Civil Liberties Union, said last week. "We view intelligent design as the latest attempt to teach religion instead of science."

The school board voted, 6-3, last month to change its ninth-grade biology curriculum, making it the latest municipality to tussle over the issue of religion in schools. Two board members quit in protest, and the administration is bracing itself for the inevitable court challenges.

To the faithful, the new curriculum has nothing to do with religion but represents a more balanced way of teaching about the origin of life. However, critics say it's a back door into creationism, a biblical theory that credits the origin of mankind to God.

"It's a crusade," said Carol Brown, who, along with her husband, Jeff, quit the school board after it approved the teaching of intelligent design, which will be part of the biology curriculum for the first time when students take up evolution in January. "What we're asking teachers to do is illegal. The Supreme Court said you cannot mix church and state."

That was a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that it was unconstitutional for Louisiana to include creationism in school curriculums. The issue has come up again in Cobb County, Ga., where the school district has been sued for putting stickers in biology textbooks saying that evolution was "a theory, not a fact," and should be "approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically." A court decision is pending.

Top Dover district administrators issued a statement Friday on implementation of the new biology curriculum "to make sure no one is promoting but also not inhibiting religion."

The district, the statement said, "wants to support and not discriminate against students and parents that do have competing beliefs, especially in the area of the origin-of-life debate."

In Dover, a small farming community whose main street is lined with modest Victorian houses once belonging to clothing- and cigar-factory workers, many people consider themselves evangelical or born-again Christians.

"And they're very vocal about it," Brown said. "I even had one ask me if I was born again."

Proponents of the new curriculum say the district does not plan to teach religion, but rather would take a critical look at Darwin's theory of natural selection and present an alternate view of how life began.

"The only thing we want to do is provide a balanced playing field for the students, as opposed to just hearing about the theory of evolution," said school board member William Buckingham, a self-described creationist.

As head of the board's curriculum committee, the retired police officer and former Marine lobbied for the district to purchase Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins, an intelligent-design textbook. It would have been used along with the standard biology text. That plan was shelved, but 50 copies of Pandas later mysteriously turned up at the school.

"Teachers are instructed not to play one side over the other, but to play both sides," Buckingham said. The intelligent-design text will be available in the classrooms.

Now that the issues of prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance in schools have been settled by the courts, at least for now, intelligent design is emerging as the newest faith-based battleground. There is growing pressure nationwide for Dover-style policies, said Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Association for Science Education.

"These don't come from teachers and scientists," she said. "They come from politicians."

Intelligent design, she said, is "creationism in a lab coat."

The Discovery Institute, a Seattle think tank that supports scientists who are doing research in intelligent design, says schools should not teach it, but should stick with evolution because that is the predominant theory.

Jim Miller of the American Association for the Advancement of Science said there has "not been any successful competing theory" to evolution, and "intelligent design has not been substantiated in any scientific manner."

But supporters of intelligent design say that Darwin's theory of natural selection cannot account for the complexity of life-forms on Earth and that nature shows tangible signs of design by a preexisting intelligence. Unstated is the nature of that intelligence.

"That could be Mother Earth, Buddha, or whoever the Muslims believe in," said Buckingham, who belongs to a fundamentalist Christian church.

The high school's three biology teachers, meanwhile, are wondering just what they are supposed to teach. They say they had no input into the new curriculum and worry that they could be sued.

Intelligent design is "against what we think is right for the classroom," said Jennifer Miller, a teacher of 12 years. The book "wants to say evolution can't be proven. I also think you can't prove intelligent design."

"One of the problems is people don't have a good understanding of what evolution is," she said. "I tell the students from day one that I'm not trying to push them one way or another."

Superintendent Richard Nilsen declined to comment.

Buckingham said many people have expressed support and that most of the opposition has come from teachers and their relatives. But one parent who spoke out at a board meeting, Andrea Heilman, said she thinks the board is "taking us a step back."

Not so at Jim & Nina's Pizza shop, where employees were firmly behind the board.

"The school district is giving them both sides so they can make their own choice what to believe," manager Regina Rhoe said.

"I don't see where it hurts," owner Danny Ness said.

At the high school, though, students seemed divided. Senior Rachel Cashman, 17, said many of her classmates were religious and adhered to creationism, as she did. Cale Latchow, 17, a junior, believes so strongly in the Bible that he put a sticker on his guitar that states, "Darwin lies."

But his classmate, Jeremy Naylor, 18, said he "supports evolution 100 percent. It's backed by scientific fact rather than just someone's beliefs."

How It All Began - the Theories

Darwinism - A theory of biological evolution that all species of organisms arise and develop through the natural selection of small, inherited variations, increasing the individual's ability to compete, survive and reproduce.

Creationism - The literal belief in the account of creation in the Book of Genesis, thus denying the theory of evolution of species.

Intelligent design - The belief that certain features of the universe and of living things cannot be explained by an undirected process such as natural selection, but only by purposeful power.

Contact staff writer Kathy Boccella at 610-313-8123 or at kboccella@phillynews.com.

Utah Man Charged in Cancer Patient's Death


Posted on Sun, Nov. 21, 2004

Associated Press

PROVO, Utah - A practitioner of alternative medicine who allegedly discouraged a woman with breast cancer from getting chemotherapy has been charged in her death.

David Eugene Pontius, 61, was charged Tuesday with unlawful and unprofessional conduct for treating the woman for six months before she died Oct. 20. He faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted on all three counts.

Diane Shepherd allegedly refused chemotherapy and surgery from her physician and instead relied on Pontius' holistic treatment after being diagnosed with cancer in April, according to court documents.

Pontius allegedly determined that Shepherd's cancer developed because of gangrene and mercury poisoning in her teeth. His treatment included chiropractic adjustments and a diet with apricot kernels.

Prosecutors say a dentist has refuted that diagnosis.

Pontius' attorney, Denver Snuffer, blamed the case on Utah laws, which he said unfairly penalize practitioners like his client. "Medicine has a monopoly, and it's enforced by the licensing department from the state of Utah," Snuffer said.

Shepherd received checkups from an oncologist who told her she would die by October if not promptly treated, according to an arrest affidavit. The document says Pontius discouraged Shepherd from receiving chemotherapy because it "kills both the good and bad cells and makes people sick."

Pontius is licensed to practice holistic medicine in other states, but Utah does not recognize those licenses and has rejected his efforts to become licensed, Snuffer said.

Pontius' first hearing is set for Dec. 2.

A fresh look at evolution


Posted on Sun, Nov. 21, 2004


By Lynn Yarris

Special to the Mercury News

Consider the complex biochemistry that goes into the construction of a human eye, with cells committing suicide to create a transparent lens, and cells collaborating to admit different wavelengths of light and focus to different distances.

Then imagine this magnificent complexity being compounded a thousandfold or better as the gathered images are forwarded to the brain for processing, interpretation and storage. Do this and it becomes easy to at least consider the notion of ``intelligent design,'' which holds that such everyday miracles of nature could only be the products of divine guidance.

But don't say that to Richard Dawkins, the brilliant Oxford University biologist who is perhaps the most ardent champion of evolutionary theory today.

``Evolutionary history can be represented as one damn species after another, but many biologists will join me in finding this an impoverished view,'' writes Dawkins in his latest book, ``The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution.''

``Biological evolution has no privileged line of descent and no designated end. Evolution has reached many millions of interim ends, and there is no reason other than vanity -- human vanity as it happens, since we are doing the talking -- to designate any one as more privileged or climactic than any other.''

``The Ancestor's Tale'' is yet another of Dawkins' intellectual salvos against those who subscribe to creationism or intelligent design, or any other school of thought that doubts the ability of nature to work wonders, given enough time. In that sense, it joins his seminal work, ``The Selfish Gene,'' and another of his books, ``The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design,'' as a salute to and defense of Darwinian beliefs in natural selection.

Like his previous works, ``The Ancestor's Tale'' is immensely informative, sometimes caustic, always witty, and not an easy read. Dawkins knows more than you do, and he makes you work to catch up.

``The Ancestor's Tale'' is modeled on Chaucer's ``The Canterbury Tales'' in which a group of pilgrims journeys from a London inn to Canterbury Cathedral. In Dawkins' version, the pilgrims are representatives of major life forms -- mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, plants, insects and even microorganisms -- and their journey is a reverse trip through evolution, from the present to the origin of life on Earth.

``Backward chronology in search of ancestors really can sensibly aim toward a single distant target. The distant target is the grand ancestor of all life, and we can't help converging on it no matter where we start -- elephant or eagle, swift or salmonella,'' Dawkins writes. ``Go backwards and, no matter where you start, you end up celebrating the unity of life.''

The Chaucerian narrative structure is a somewhat forced metaphoric device, and Dawkins might have made his book more accessible if he hadn't straitjacketed himself into it. Still, if you treat each organism's story as an individual essay on natural history, there's a lot to be learned, and all of it is fascinating. One of my favorites was the ``Howler Monkey's Tale.'' Alone of all the New World monkeys, the howler monkey is genetically wired for trichromatic vision -- the ability to see red as well as blue and green. This unique attribute is more likely the result of a lucky genetic intervention than adaptation.

As Dawkins explains, mammals, during their formative years, were nocturnal and had no need of color vision. When dinosaurs died off in sufficient numbers for mammals to operate in the daylight, most, for genetic reasons, evolved to see only combinations of blues and greens. Thanks to a genomic parasite, however, howler monkeys were an exception, and became able to distinguish the color red.

``New genes aren't added to the genome out of thin air. They originate as duplicates of older genes. Then, over evolutionary time, they go their separate ways by mutation, selection, and drift,'' Dawkins writes. ``Regardless of when or how it happens, accidental DNA duplication is one of the major sources of new genes. And it isn't only genes that change within a genome. Genomes themselves change.''

From a scientific perspective, perhaps the most important point to emerge from ``The Ancestor's Tale'' is the conclusion that Dawkins reaches, that evolutionary change is somewhat progressive and, therefore, somewhat predictable. Dawkins is famous for declaring, ``Life results from the non-random survival of randomly varying replicators.'' (You can find T-shirts with that quote.) But here, he seems to be saying that maybe those varying replicators aren't so random after all.

Take my opening example of the eye. From the separate evolutionary paths taken by creatures on land masses isolated from one another, it would seem, Dawkins says, that life on this planet is almost ``indecently eager to evolve eyes.'' He also notes how similarly the overall course of evolution ran in these environments. What's going on? Is there some kind of ``intelligent design'' that moves evolution along in a consistent direction of improvement? Or is it evolution itself that becomes better at doing what it does?

Dawkins navigates this treacherous road without fear, and ``The Ancestor's Tale'' is sure to provoke a lot of heated discussions from all sides of the evolutionary debates. Love him or hate him, Dawkins is a compelling scientific commentator who will not be ignored, and ``The Ancestor's Tale'' is a book to be read and enjoyed by those with a strong interest in biology, who also relish a good fight.

THE ANCESTOR'S TALE: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution

By Richard Dawkins

Houghton Mifflin, 384 pp., $28

Lynn Yarris is a science writer at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Write to him at lcyarris@aol.com.

All theories created equal — in Dover, at least


Sunday, November 21, 2004

Memo to the Dover Area School Board:

Congratulations! You guys were in the forefront of this whole evolution debate. Sure, a lot of us thought it had been settled decades ago, but you all showed us that it ain't over until it's over, or at least until a board member is able to bully the rest of the board into his way of thinking.

You are believed to be first in the nation to include "intelligent design" in the curriculum. So what if some scientist from the National Center for Science Education named Nicholas Matzke told the Associated Press that "intelligent design" is "creationism in a cheap tuxedo?" What's he know? Was he elected to the Dover Area School Board?

Since you guys have acted, we've received news that a Wisconsin school district had adopted a policy to permit the teaching of alternative theories of the origin of life. Strangely, that board voted the same night as you guys. But considering Wisconsin is in the Central time zone, you were first.

And there was news of a school district in suburban Georgia that was hauled into court after it plastered stickers on its biology texts calling evolution "a theory, not a fact."

(Well, it turns out it is a fact, proven by decades of scientific examination and overwhelming evidence and other book-learning. But never mind . . .)

An AP story about the Georgia case reported that some people were embarrassed by the school's decision. They thought it reflected poorly on the state, making the good goobers of the Goober State look like a bunch of, well, goobers.

Pause for a moment, Dover school board members, and consider that people in Georgia are more concerned about looking like a bunch of backward rubes than you guys.

Kind of makes you proud.

And the results of the recent election validated you guys. The Religious Right won this one for Dubya, confirming, as more than one commentator said, that the nation is ready to go back to a simpler, more decent time that has never really existed.

As you can see, now is not the time for dithering. You have the momentum. It's time for you guys to take the bull by the horns and really transform the school district into one that can serve as a shining beacon to everyone who believes humankind stopped developing sometime in the 1600s.

Certainly, the curriculum can be expanded to include other theories.

Such as buttocks.

A story in a recent edition of the science journal Nature reported our butts are key to our development as a species, that our bigger butts make it possible for us to walk upright and run for great distances. Our big butts, the article states, in so many words, are what separate us from lesser primates.

The article theorizes that our butts developed that way to allow us to run distances to hunt and gather and get away from Wilma and Betty and their incessant whining.

Of course, the article is full of science and stuff, but you aren't concerned about that.

Nowhere in the article does the author consider alternate theories about our big butts. For instance, the article completely neglects the role beer and doughnuts play in the ever-increasing size of our butts.

You guys can correct this. You can order your teachers to inform students that while scientists believe our big butts developed as a result of natural selection — our need as a species to get away from Wilma and Betty — it is just as plausible that beer and doughnuts are responsible for the shape, or lack thereof, of our posterior regions.

And this way of thinking could lead to all sorts of debate and discussion and other means of honing kids' critical thinking skills. What role does light beer play in our development? What about sprinkles versus jelly-filled? Krispy Kreme vs. Maple Donuts? And how can we ignore the role played by kettle-cooked potato chips in our development as a species?

Surely, your science teachers wouldn't mind sharing these ideas with students because as school board member Bill Buckingham, who pushed "intelligent design," said, "it's a downright fraud to perpetuate on the students of this district" one theory over another.

You can't ask students to believe that ancient humans developed big butts to run away from mastodons without speculating about that role beer and doughnuts may have played.

You see, as Buckingham said, it's a matter of balance. All theories are equal in his eyes.

You balance one "theory," one that has scientific evidence and proof backing it up, with another that doesn't. That's balance.

And it's not, as Buckingham told the AP, "an attempt to impose my views on anyone else."

Not at all.

Of course, this idea of balance and such can be applied to other courses of study. Students could be given alternate theories that the earth is flat; some people do believe that because otherwise, we'd keep falling off the planet. In history class, teachers are probably still filling the kids' heads full of nonsense about how the Pilgrims fled England so they could believe whatever they wanted to and not have politicians and school board members dictate personal religious beliefs.

That's just a theory. You weren't there. You don't know. It could be they went sailing one day and, like a lot of guys, got lost and refused to ask anyone for directions and wound up in New England. That's a theory. And what about the Vikings? Some historians believe the Vikings came to North America before the British, but that theory has gaps in it, failing, for one thing, to explain how the Vikings got the Metrodome, and once they got there, how they could possibly win a championship considering the poor state of their defense.

And how about English? There are lots of theories about English, such as Shakespeare didn't write all those plays and it really was the work of several women wearing clever disguises.

See, it's not about imposing one person's beliefs on others. It's all about balance.

And I'm sure our institutions of higher learning will understand that when students from Dover apply.

Mike Argento, whose column appears Mondays and Thursdays in Living and Sundays in Viewpoints, can be reached at 771-2046 or at mike@ydr.com.

MARVELLING: Who really killed JFK?


- Sunday 21,

I was in Ghana when one of my peace corps teaching colleagues informed me that United States President John F. Kennedy (JFK) had been shot.

I always wondered how this could happen with all the security that presidents and prime ministers of these large countries have. Then, in the case of JFK, everyone started talking about a conspiracy. Up to now the matter has not been cleared up to my satisfaction.

Not very long ago, an official analysis of the ballistics of the type of bullet that is supposed to have killed the president showed that it was possible for the bullet to accomplish its destruction of JFK and still end up in the arm or leg of someone else in the vehicle.

In a way, this must have been the official response to the conspiracy theory so beautifully examined in the film, JFK, and constantly denied by the United States authorities. I must say that with one of the Giancanas writing about Kennedy and claiming to have fixed the vote for JFK in Texas and Chicago and having to kill him because his father did not keep his promise to the mafia, it did seem like several wild theories wereout there.

Interestingly, an article published in a German newspaper purports to have been the confession of Jack Ruby's woman on her death bed. According to her, both Ruby and Lee Harvey Oswald were members of the mafia and Ruby killed Oswald to prevent him from talking. This tallied with the Giancana story which claimed that Oswald had been set up as a "patsy', a fall guy for something he had not done.

A PBS version was frightening. It revealed that forty-two people who had had some close connection with the assassination had died rather mysteriously since that November date in 1963. Among them was Oswald, shot in broad daylight while being escorted by policemen, by his friend Ruby. Ruby died of cancer very soon after.

A more intriguing death, however, was a military official from the NIH, who had evidently been at the hospital when Kennedy's body was brought in. According to a colleague, who was also there, and who had trained with him for a special military unit, Lieutenant Pitzer had been offered an excellent job outside the military with the media, when he is supposed to have committed suicide.

His body was found in his apartment with a gun lying to his right and a hole in the right side of his head. The most unusual thing about this "suicide" was that Pitzer was left-handed!

PBS also interviewed a Tom Wilson, who was an expert in computer imaging. Wilson went back to the photographs and analysed them in ways that would have been impossible at the time of JFK's death.

He read the missile, as he calls it, as having entered Kennedy's head at the forehead (and not from the back as it would have had to if we are to believe that Oswald shot him). It exited at the back, leaving a massive hole and taking a sizeable segment of his brain with it.

Evidently it was a bullet that splintered on impact or at least broke into two different projectiles while in the victim's head. Wilson went to Texas to test his finding. Arrived there, he could find nowhere from which the bullet could have been fired. He realised that the bullet travelled upward and discovered a manhole covering a drainage system leading away to a river.

It would have been easily possible to shoot the president from the manhole and escape without coming above ground anywhere near the scene. Clearly, for this to have happened there had to have been a conspiracy to kill the president.

The theory that Oswald did the shooting does not hold water. He was a bad shot from all reports and he could not have fired the three shots from that gun in the time quoted. PBS came to the conclusion that it had to have been effected by a secret group that Bobby Kennedy had put together to get rid of Fidel Castro – a combination of a rogue element within the CIA andthe mafia.

JFK was disliked by the mafia in particular and by Cuban exiles in general for his failure to give air support to the invaders at the Bay of Pigs fiasco, many of whom were either killed or captured.

Wilson of the computer imaging technique indicated that JFK's head had been filled with the sort of material that morticians use to fill in holes in a dead body.

He was made to have a full head of hair when, in fact, the back of his head had been blown open. Why would such cosmetic procedure occur on a body that is still to be examined?

It is now more than forty years after the death of President Kennedy and information has been made, in accordance with United States law, available to the public. One wonders what the nature of this information will be in so far as it relates to the assassination.

When the Senate was presented with information back in 1963, they were presented with documents from which several chunks had been blacked out, as if they were investigating some routine incident and could not be made privy to the workings of the company. All of this seems amazing in a country where the democratic process is cherished and is very often observed in ways that we would consider excessive in our own narrow ways. One wonders who will be next.

Forty years is a long time.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Kreskin Offers Services to N.J. Governor


Fri Nov 19, 7:54 AM

TRENTON, N.J. - The Amazing Kreskin, who bills himself as "the world's foremost mentalist," wants to help his home state of New Jersey stem the tide of shady practices in government, a problem U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie has called widespread.

Kreskin sent a letter to acting Gov. Richard J. Codey offering his nonpartisan services to help ferret out those who come to government with ulterior motives.

Kreskin, who lives in northern New Jersey, said he would monitor government meetings with a mind's eye toward keeping things above board.

"If a person is coming in with a strong hidden agenda, they're thinking about it. They're focusing on it," he said Wednesday in a phone interview. "I could get a ... strong sense (of that)."

Kreskin said he sent his letter to Codey's office Monday, signing it "ESPecially, Kreskin." A spokeswoman for Codey, Kelley Heck, wasn't sure the letter had been received.

Codey, who has a penchant for one-liners, was shown a statement Kreskin provided to news reporters. The acting governor was "interested in hearing whether The Amazing Kreskin can read Chris Christie's mind," Heck said.


Copyright 2004 The Associated Press



Psychology, like just about everything else, has been transformed by the genetics revolution. Dean Hamer, a behavioral geneticist at NCI, has now examined the genetic basis of spirituality in an important book that explains why we're predisposed to believe in God. Evangelicals hate the idea that they are motivated by a trick of brain chemistry. As near as WN can tell "the God gene" is just "the belief gene," in Park's 2000 book, Voodoo Science. The power of the God gene was demonstrated this week when Diana Duyser put a 10-year old grilled cheese sandwich bearing an image of the Virgin Mary up for sale on eBay. It sold for $5,100.

Pennsylvania School District Retreats from Evolution


Friday, November 19, 2004 6:42 p.m. ET

By Jon Hurdle

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - A Pennsylvania school district on Friday defended its decision to discount Charles Darwin's theory of evolution and take a lead in teaching what critics say is a version of creationism.

Proponents of intelligent design argue that the complexity of nature is such that it could not have occurred by chance, as Darwinian theory holds, and so must have been created by some all-powerful force.

That being is not explicitly identified, but many of the theory's conservative religious supporters say it is God.

NCSE, an Oakland, California-based group that defends the teaching of evolution in schools, said the district's board approved the policy change last month after a debate that began more than a year ago when a board member objected to a biology textbook on the grounds it focused on Darwinism.

The move set off a noisy debate in the district, with at least two school board members resigning. On Friday, the district defended its decision by saying it intends to present a balanced view, and not to teach religious beliefs.

Officials will "make sure no one is promoting but also not inhibiting religion," according to a statement posted on the district's Web site.

"Because Darwin's theory is a theory, it is still being tested as new evidence is discovered," the statement said. "Gaps in the theory exist for which there is no evidence."


Scientific educators, however, see intelligent design as a thinly veiled version of creationism, whose supporters believe the earth was made by God as described in the book of Genesis.

"Intelligent design is creationism in a cheap tuxedo," said Nick Matzke, a spokesman for the NCSE. "If there was a court case, it would not be found constitutional."

Challenges to the teaching of evolution in America are not new. Christian conservatives, who played a significant role in the re-election of President Bush, have been pressing for decades to bring creationism back to classrooms.

The teaching of creationism in public schools has been struck down by the Supreme Court, which said such a practice would violate the constitutional separation of church and state.

Despite this, Americans' belief in creationism remains strong. A recent Gallup poll found that nearly half of Americans believe that God created humans in their present form, with a mere 13 percent saying God played no part in the process of human development.

Darwin's ideas were famously argued in the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, in which the state of Tennessee put teacher John Thomas Scopes on trial for knowingly infringing a law banning the teaching of evolution.

Although Scopes was convicted and fined the minimum $100, the verdict was reversed on a technicality by the state Supreme Court.

In 1999, the Kansas Board of Education rejected evolution as a scientific principle. It was a short-lived victory for religious conservatives, however, as Kansas educators reinstated the theory of evolution less than two years later.

Copyright © 2003 Reuters Limited.



Genesis Through the Back Door

American high school seniors rank 16th among 21 industrialized nations when it comes to achievement in science, and you can bet a frozen mastodon that the leaders — Sweden, the Netherlands, Iceland and Norway — got there with a stronger curriculum and better-trained teachers, not with endless court fights over creationism.

Yet fighting creationism has evolved into a booming business for the American Civil Liberties Union. It is awaiting a ruling in Georgia in a suit it brought against the Cobb County school board. Seeking to mollify religious parents who take the creation story in Genesis literally and believe that their religion should intrude into their public schools, the board decided to paste a sticker inside the cover of high school biology textbooks, saying in part, "Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things." Caveat homo sapiens. What next? A back-cover sticker to American history texts wondering if ending slavery was really such a great idea?

The evolution-hedging wording ignores the overwhelming evidence supporting the widely accepted theory of evolution. But in the politically charged world of school board politics, we suppose school leaders deserve credit for trying to solve a devil of an argument with a compromise that keeps students learning about evolution, with the full text intact, and teachers free to teach.

It was a surprising move for the often uncompromising creationists to accept the sticker, the barest of implied nods to their convictions. In their eyes, at least parents who want to teach their children creationism — at home — can point to the sticker to quiet that inevitable teen refrain: "You're wrong."

Far more troubling was last month's decision by the Dover, Pa., school board to mandate the teaching of "intelligent design" alongside evolution. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that the required teaching of creationism as science violated the 1st Amendment. Trying to disguise creationism with the label of "intelligent design" (which sounds like an IKEA marketing pitch) doesn't pass the smell test — or any valid science test.

If you want other stories on this topic, search the Archives at latimes.com/archives

Evolution, Creationism Still Splits Views In U.S.


November 20, 2004

(CPOD) Nov. 20, 2004 - Americans are divided in their assessment of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, according to a poll by Gallup. 35 per cent of respondents say the British naturalist's views are supported by evidence, while 35 per cent disagree.

Darwin's "The Origin of Species" was first published in 1859. The book details the naturalist's theory that all organisms gradually evolve through the process of natural selection. Darwin's views were antagonistic to creationism, the belief that a more powerful being or a deity created life.

In the United States, the debate accelerated after the 1925 Scopes trial, which tested a law that banned the teaching of evolution in Tennessee public schools. 45 per cent of poll respondents today say God created human beings in their present form.

Earlier this year, Georgia's Cobb County was at the centre of a controversy on whether science textbooks that explain evolutionary theory should include disclaimer stickers.

Polling Data

Just your opinion, do you think that Charles Darwin's theory of evolution is a scientific theory that has been well supported by evidence; just one of many theories and one that has not been well supported by evidence; or don't you know enough about it to say?


Nov. 2004

Feb. 2001

Supported by evidence



Not supported by evidence



Don't know enough to say



No opinion



Which of the following statements comes closest to your views on the origin and development of human beings: 1) Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process; 2) Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process; 3) God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so?


Nov. 2004

Feb. 2001

Man developed, with God guiding



Man developed, but God had no part in process



God created man in present form



Other / No opinion



Source: Gallup Methodology: Telephone interviews with 1,016 American adults, conducted from Nov. 7 to Nov. 10, 2004. Margin of error is 3 per cent.

School District Challenges Darwin's Theory


November 21, 2004


PHILADELPHIA, Nov. 20 - A Pennsylvania school district Friday defended its decision to discount Charles Darwin's theory of evolution and teach what critics say is a version of creationism.

The district, the Dover Area School District in south-central Pennsylvania, is believed to be the first in the country to approve the teaching of a new theory called intelligent design, the National Center for Science Education said.

Proponents of the theory argue that the complexity of nature is such that it could not have occurred by chance, as Darwin held, and so must have been created by some all-powerful force.

The National Center for Science Education, an organization based in Oakland, Calif., that defends the teaching of evolution, said the district's board approved the policy change last month after a debate that began more than a year ago when a board member objected to a biology textbook because it focused on Darwinism.

The move prompted at least two members of the school board to resign. On Friday, the district defended its decision by issuing a statement saying it intends to present a balanced view and not to teach religious beliefs.

Officials will "make sure no one is promoting but also not inhibiting religion," the statement, which was posted on the district's Web site, says. It also says, "Because Darwin's theory is a theory, it is still being tested as new evidence is discovered."

Many educators, however, see intelligent design as a thinly veiled version of creationism, whose supporters believe the earth was made by God as described in the Book of Genesis.

"Intelligent design is creationism in a cheap tuxedo," said Nick Matzke, a spokesman for the science education group. "If there was a court case, it would not be found constitutional."

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Scientists Defend School Board's Use of Evolution Disclaimer Sticker


Friday November 12, 3:00 am ET
R. Robin McDonald and Greg Bluestein, Fulton County Daily Report

Calling evolution "a theory in crisis," more than two-dozen scientists have come to the defense of the Cobb County, Ga., Board of Education. The scientists, all Ph.D.'s, portray evolution as "a live and growing scientific controversy."

Among them are professors of microbiology, biochemistry and biophysics, who have filed a friend-of-the-court brief siding with the school board's 2002 decision to place a disclaimer about evolution in the front of its high-school biology textbooks. At the board's direction, a sticker placed in every Cobb biology textbook warns students that evolution is "a theory, not a fact," and should be "critically considered."

The sticker is being challenged this week in U.S. District Court in Atlanta. A group of Cobb parents and the American Civil Liberties Union sued to have the sticker declared unconstitutional. Selman v. Cobb County School District, No. 1:02CV2325 (N.D. Ga. filed Aug. 21, 2002). The parents, led by Cobb resident Jeffrey Selman, say that the sticker is an implicit endorsement of religion because most alternative explanations of creation are based on religious concepts rather than science.

The school board's attorney has said the sticker isn't meant to promote discussions of faith-based concepts of the origin of life, but is simply an accommodation to families who don't believe in evolution.

U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper is hearing the case in a bench trial. Cooper has said in pre-trial rulings that the trial is being held to examine whether the sticker has a religious purpose, but in the first two days of testimony it appears that witnesses on both sides are interested in validating or questioning the scientific evidence for evolution.


The amicus brief, submitted last week, is a direct challenge to Tuesday's testimony by Emory University assistant professor Carlos S. Moreno, a cancer researcher in the medical school's department of pathology and laboratory medicine. In September 2002, Moreno and 120 other Emory faculty members signed a petition in support of Selman's suit.

"We feel that it is our duty as scientists, educators, and citizens to ensure that secondary level science classes teach science and not religion," the letter accompanying the petition said.

The letter also argued, "To put evolutionary theory onto the same level as faith-based creationism and 'intelligent design' would disregard mountains of evidence carefully gathered by thousands of scientists over the past 160 years. ... All biological evidence supports the concept of descent from an original common ancestor, and all of biology makes sense only in the framework of evolutionary theory. To suggest to middle- and high-school students that there is any type of debate within the scientific community on the validity of evolution would be completely untrue and a disservice to those children."

Moreno said Tuesday that placing the sticker in the biology textbooks was like "putting a sticker about gravity on a physics book."

Not according to the academics who signed the amicus brief, among them 12 Ph.D.s who teach at the University of Georgia and six at the Georgia Institute of Technology. They say in their brief that there is growing skepticism that evolution as first elucidated by Charles Darwin in his "On the Origin of the Species" can "account for the complexity of life we see today."

Most of the amici are scientists with doctoral degrees in fields such as biology, biochemistry and other scientific fields.

They include Russell W. Carlson, technical director of the Complex Carbohydrate Research Center at UGA; Henry F. Schaefer, director of UGA's Center for Computational Quantum Chemistry; Eugene C. Ashby, a professor at Georgia Tech's School of Chemistry and Biochemistry; Leon L. Combs, chair of Kennesaw State University's department of chemistry and biochemistry; and Dr. James A. Tumlin, an associate professor of medicine at Emory University.

The brief was written by Atlanta attorneys George M. Weaver and Kevin T. McMurry of Hollberg & Weaver, and Seth L. Cooper for the Discovery Institute in Seattle, Wash. The Discovery Institute is one of the major proponents of intelligent design, the idea that a divine being orchestrated the evolutionary process.

The brief notes that its signatories "represent a sampling of a growing number of scientists who are skeptical of neo-Darwinism's claim that the undirected mechanisms of natural selection and random genetic variations can account for the complexity of life. Amici also represent a number of scientists who are skeptical of chemical evolutionary theory's ability to account for the origin of life."


The brief states, "[S]tandard high-school and college biology textbooks routinely ignore scientific data challenging neo-Darwinian and chemical evolutionary theories. ... Furthermore, many textbooks contain purported evidence for neo-Darwinian theory that have long been discredited by scientists, including neo-Darwinists."

The brief acknowledges that this view represents "a minority position within the scientific community." However, it suggests that when debates such as the one over evolution "are raging, students need to know about them," and school boards "should be able to take reasonable steps to ensure that students are fully informed." In that light, the brief's signatories found Cobb's disclaimer to be "entirely reasonable."

One of the authors of the Cobb textbook, Kenneth R. Miller, a cell biologist at Brown University, said in testimony Monday that the sticker was far from "reasonable." He called it "very weird. ... The only place I see warnings is cigarette packs."

Miller took the witness stand to defend his textbook. He conceded that evolutionary theory doesn't explain everything about the origin of life, but he added, "There are elements of the Battle of Gettysburg we can't explain. Does that mean it didn't take place? Of course not."

He also challenged the disclaimer's statement that evolution is theory rather than fact.

"The popular feeling is a theory is just a hunch," he explained. "In science, you don't use the word 'theory' for a hunch or a stupid guess. Theories explain facts. They tie them together."

Miller, who also has authored a book called "Finding Darwin's God," devoted to how religion and biology intermingle, said he views religion and science as "complementary." "The purpose of education is not to compel belief but to promote understanding," he said. "If you understand why the scientific community finds evolution so compelling, I really don't care what you believe."

Editorial: Evolution battles never seem to end


Web Posted: 11/12/2004 12:00 AM CST

San Antonio Express-News

Seventy-nine years have passed since William Jennings Bryan prosecuted John Scopes for teaching evolutionary theory in a Tennessee classroom.

Scopes was found guilty of violating state law and fined $100. The Tennessee Supreme Court eventually overturned the verdict on a technicality.

In the 1968 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Epperson v. Arkansas, efforts to prohibit the teaching of evolution were found to be an unconstitutional tailoring of education to accommodate religious doctrine.

The court followed in 1987 with a ruling that creationism, as a religious belief, could not be taught in public schools.

In a way that might have made Charles Darwin chuckle, the effort to oppose the teaching of evolution has itself evolved.

Bowing to public pressure from religious conservatives, some school districts have required science textbooks to include disclaimers about evolutionary theory.

In Georgia, Cobb County schools require a sticker to be affixed on the inside cover.

The sticker reads: "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered."

In a trial this week, six parents are suing in federal district court to have the stickers removed. Closing arguments take place today.

Cobb County school board members obviously need a bit of education about evolutionary theory themselves. Evolution offers a scientific explanation of how species arise, not the origin of living things.

More significantly, evolutionary theory is based on a scientific method and has prevailed in a scientific community in which skepticism and peer review already are essential components. Placing a disclaimer on evolutionary theory, singling it out from every other scientific theory, is an obvious mutation of the creationist effort.

If alternative theories for the diversity of life exist that can withstand scientific scrutiny, then they should enter the educational canon.

Until then, science should remain in textbooks while faith should remain in the Bible.

Top Secret Black Triangles


George Knapp, Investigative Reporter

(Nov. 18) -- Eyewitnesses all over the country are reporting glimpses of something large, dark and mysterious in the skies above big cities and busy highways. The crafts are often described as triangular in shape, silent in their movements, and of unknown origin, and they've been seen here in southern Nevada. It looks like these mystery craft might be a secret military project, but if so, why are they flying around in the open?

"Look at them, there's three or four of them." In 1997, thousands of eyewitnesses watched in awe as a boomerang-shaped formation of lights cruised slowly and silently over the city of Phoenix. "They're lined up in a pattern." Witnesses first thought these were separate lights, flying in formation, but quickly realized the lights were all part of a single, gigantic something.

Military officials were asked about the Phoenix lights but said they hadn't seen anything. Months later, they explained that a National Guard unit had been training with flares near the city. The public didn't buy it.

Eight years earlier, the airspace over Belgium was repeatedly violated by huge unidentified black triangles. Ten thousand witnesses saw them. Several were photographed. The Belgian Air Force dispatched F-126s to intercept and destroy the unknown intruders, but the triangles performed maneuvers that seem virtually impossible.

Dr. Colm Kelleher said, "They launched on several occasions top of the line military aircraft against these things and they were left in the dust. One minute they're overhead, and the next they're over the horizon."

Dr. Kelleher is a research scientist who spent several years with the National Institute for Discovery Science, or NIDS, a private Las Vegas science organization. A four-year NIDS study of the mystery triangles has found that these craft have been seen for decades all over the world.

There were a daylight sightings in Russia in the 70s. In the early 80s, there were hundreds of nighttime sightings in rural New York. Belgium was inundated in the late 80s, but more recently, the mystery triangles have really come out of the closet and have been seen in every state, including Nevada, flying low and slow over cities.

Dr. Kelleher describes, "These things are huge, football field sized. Sometimes they are stealthy; sometimes flying with very bright lights, disco-flashing lights -- red, green, blue, some bright white lights. They're always silent."

NIDS now has a database of more than a 1,000 black triangle reports, 17 of them from Nevada. The witnesses often say the craft seem to float, like a blimp or airship, but they are also capable of aeronautical magic.

"They were able to drop altitude 10,000-20,000 feet in a matter of seconds. They went from a hovering position to several thousand miles an hour, and this was caught on radar," said Dr. Kelleher.

"It was heading straight north. The right edge was over that tree." Las Vegas journalist Cateland White was in the backyard of her southeast Las Vegas home last year when she saw a dark behemoth fly over. She drew a picture and described, "It was triangular shaped with rectangular reflectors. No interior light at all. By the time it got out of sight, it was 5-8 minutes. It was so slow, I couldn't figure out how it was staying in the air."

White called the police, who connected her to Nellis Air Force Base, which is the direction the triangle seemed headed. "The man said, 'I don't want you to talk about this anymore, and you're gonna forget it.' I said, 'Look buddy, I'm not drinking, I'm not on drugs, something is headed for your base.' Then he got real terse and said, 'Mam, I'm gonna tell you one more time and this is the last time I'm gonna tell you. Forget what you saw and don't tell anybody.' At that point, I was freaked," described White.

The frequent proximity of triangle sightings to air force bases led NIDS to conclude two years ago that the craft must be part of a secret military project. But in the two years since, the triangles have become so prevalent over big cities and interstate highways that the theory doesn't fit anymore.

Dr. Kelleher said, "Why would unacknowledged aircraft be flying at 500 feet over populated areas? If you look at the B-2 and F-117, prior to them being acknowledged, there was no flying over populated areas. They flew in the desert. They flew at high altitudes."

Crowds flock to Bali temple as tree begins oozing mysterious honey


JAKARTA (AFP) - Crowds are flocking to a Hindu temple on Indonesia's resort island of Bali for a glimpse of an ancient banyan tree which has begun oozing a honey-like substance said to have mystical properties.

The sweet-tasting liquid started drizzling from the canopy of the tree onto temple buildings at the village of Baktisegara on the northern coast of the mainly Hindu island in October, the state Antara news agency said.

Priests say many onlookers attending a ceremony to purify the liquid showed symptoms of being possessed by spirits -- running around the temple grounds and clambering into the tree's branches, according to Antara.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Candidates chosen for school board


The Dover Area School Board interviewed 13 candidates to fill open seats.

For the Daily Record/Sunday News
Friday, November 19, 2004

At bottom: · CANDIDATES As former Dover Area School Board member Carol "Casey" Brown watched the 13 candidates interview for four vacant board seats Thursday night, she did so with a hope.

She hoped that when the new board members were chosen, they would bring a greater balance of opinion on issues, such as the recent decision to allow "intelligent design" to be taught in ninth-grade biology.

Instead, she said, taxpayers got a preacher, a home-schooler who doesn't send his kids to public school because of his religious beliefs and two others with barely any experience in government.

"I don't think the choices made tonight serve the students or the taxpayers," she said.

The four who were chosen were Edward Rowand, pastor at Rohler's Assembly of God Church in Dover; Eric Riddle, the home-school parent; Ronald Short; and Sherrie Leber.

Leber is an insurance agent who is also involved at Shiloh United Church of Christ, among other things. During his interview, Short was asked by board president Alan Bonsell if he felt he could stand up and fight over the current controversy if he felt it was the right thing to do.

Short said he would be outspoken and understood that some people would be unhappy with the result.

"But I will bear it," he said.

While on one five-minute break between interviews, Buckingham said the board couldn't legally come right out and ask about opinions on intelligent design without looking as though they had a litmus test working for choosing new members.

"But we can ask general questions and to see what they offer up and evaluate from there," he said.

No one who adamantly spoke out against intelligent design was selected. One of those candidates was Bryan Rehm.

"It is a great disservice and fallacy to teach students that a perfectly valid faith constitutes scientific knowledge," he told the board during his interview.

He said the board must allow the curriculum to be developed by the professional educators with expertise in state standards. Rehm said he was speaking from experience. In his resume to the board, he listed himself as a physics teacher with seven years of experience, four of which included writing science curriculum.

The Eagle Scout also listed several educational awards and grants he has received to assist him in his classrooms.

On a break during interviews, Rehm said he found the questions the board was asking interesting. Like Buckingham's question, when he asked potential candidates if they will be able to stand up to the left-wing, liberal media when they inevitably misquote and misrepresent them.

"Those types of questions have nothing to do with the issues facing our students," Rehm said. "Too much of this has been fluff questions with fluff answers."

Rehm vowed to run formally for a spot on the school board next year.

After the meeting, district secretary Peg Funkhouser said she was disappointed that the board did not select Rehm.

"He was clearly one of the most qualified," she said.

Resident Sheri Greenfield agreed.

"He touched a nerve during the interview," she said. "You could tell when it happened because the interviewers got heated and turned personal."

Buckingham said he was very happy with the choices the board made. While some of the candidates suggested that the board revisit and reconsider the choice it made to include intelligent design in the curriculum, Buckingham said that isn't going to happen.

"It's a battle," he said. "I never enter any battle with the intention of losing."

Google Plans New Service for Scientists and Scholars



Published: November 18, 2004

SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 17 - Google Inc. plans to announce on Thursday that it is adding a new search service aimed at scientists and academic researchers.

Google Scholar, which was scheduled to go online Wednesday evening at scholar.google.com, is a result of the company's collaboration with a number of scientific and academic publishers and is intended as a first stop for researchers looking for scholarly literature like peer-reviewed papers, books, abstracts and technical reports.

Google executives declined to say how many additional documents and books had been indexed and made searchable through the service. While the great majority of recent scholarly papers and periodicals are indexed on the Web, many have not been easily accessible to the public.

The engineer who led the project, Anurag Acharya, said the company had received broad cooperation from academic, scientific and technical publishers like the Association of Computing Machinery, Nature, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the Online Computer Library Center.

The new Google service, which includes a listing of scientific citations as well as ways to find materials at libraries that are not online, will not initially include the text advertisements that are shown on standard pages for Google search results.

However, company executives say it is likely that advertisements will eventually accompany search results on Google Scholar. One academic publishing executive, John Sack, director of HighWire Press at Stanford University, said that such advertising could be quite profitable.

"The commercial reason for doing this is that you can target areas with high-quality, high-payback ads," Mr. Sack said. "An advertisement that goes next to an article on cloning techniques is probably going to be for services that are pretty expensive."

Mr. Acharya, who started the Google Scholar project, said his motivation, in part, had been a desire to help the academic community from which Google emerged.

"Google as a company has greatly benefited from academic research and this is one of the ways we can give back to the community," he said.

The project was also an effort, said Mr. Acharya, 39, to address a problem he confronted as an undergraduate in India. As a student he found materials in his college library, at times, to be significantly out of date.

Google Scholar will make the world's scientific literature universally accessible, he said.

"We don't know where the next breakthrough will come from," he said. "We want everyone to be able to stand on the shoulders of giants."

"Google's scientific search service is a significant step forward," said Danny Sullivan, editor of SearchEngineWatch, an online newsletter. He was quick to add, however, that Google was certain to have competition soon from Yahoo and others.

"We will continue to see an explosion of vertical search engines like this," he said of search services that focus on special collections.

Google Scholar is another reflection of changing habits in the academic world, said Mr. Sack of HighWire Press. In the past decade, students and researchers have begun to go to online search engines first.

Expert explains grilled cheese 'miracle'


The Associated Press

November 18, 2004, 7:45 AM EST

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Brace yourself. There may be a less-than-miraculous explanation for that image of the Virgin Mary a Florida woman says appeared in her grilled cheese sandwich.

Professional skeptic Joe Nickell says it's the same phenomenon that lets people see ships in the clouds, butterflies in ink blots and the man on the moon.

Remember that elderly lady who showed Johnny Carson her collection of potato chips with celebrity faces? (And how Carson munched on a chip, letting her think for a moment it was one of hers?)

"It's just the human ability to make images out of randomness," said Nickell, investigative columnist for Skeptical Inquirer magazine and senior research fellow of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal.

"The images are called simulacra, from the root word meaning similar. And the mental habit that causes us to see such things is called pareidolia," he said.

Nickell has studied and written about such things for 30 years. He is among the thousands who have visited Maria Rubio's 1977 "holy tortilla" in New Mexico, the "Milton Madonna" on a Massachusetts hospital window pane, and the "Clearwater Virgin" on a building in Florida.

Diana Duyser of Miami put her grilled cheese sandwich up for sale on eBay last week. She said she took a bite after making it 10 years ago and saw a face staring back. Into a clear plastic box it went and has remained on her night stand, she said.

Nickell explained that pareidolia is the process by which the human brain interprets essentially random patterns into recognizable images.

"It doesn't take much to make a face. Three or four dots or marks and you've got something that looks like a face," he said.

Many simulacra are of religious images, he said, and "perhaps most often associated with Catholic or Orthodox tradition, wherein there is a special emphasis on icons or other holy images."

Most, he concluded, are the result of natural processes, such as weathering or the buildup of chemical residues.

"Theologians and clerics are usually quick to dismiss such images, one priest wisely attributing them to `pious imagination,"' Nickell said. "However, they remain intensely popular among the superstitious faithful."

Nickell added that the Easter Bunny exists in the wood grain of his office door.

Copyright © 2004, The Associated Press

Radiocarbon dating suggests fire pit is more than 50,000 years old


AMY GEIER EDGAR, Associated Press Writer

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

(11-17) 18:32 PST COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) --

In the growing debate about when people first appeared on this continent, a leading archaeologist said Wednesday he has discovered what could be sooty evidence of human occupation in North America tens of thousands of years earlier than is commonly believed.

University of South Carolina archaeologist Al Goodyear said he has uncovered a layer of charcoal from a possible hearth or fire pit at a site near the Savannah River.

Samples from the layer have been laboratory-dated to more than 50,000 years old. Yet Goodyear stopped short of declaring it proof of the continent's earliest human occupation.

"It does look like a hearth," he said, "and the material that was dated has been burned."

Since the 1960s, anthropologists have generally accepted that hunters migrated to North America about 13,000 years ago over a land bridge into Alaska following the retreat of Ice Age glaciers.

But other sites, including the Topper dig in South Carolina, have yielded rough stone tools and other artifacts suggesting that humans lived in North America thousands of years earlier when the climate was much colder. While there is no ironclad proof that an older culture existed, scientists are increasingly open to the idea that humans arrived from many other directions besides the northwest, perhaps even sailing across oceans.

But a 50,000-year-old fire pit would scorch the prevailing occupation theory.

Goodyear's evidence was examined by other scientists, who performed radiocarbon tests on samples to determine their age. However, he made his initial case for the fire pit Wednesday in a news conference rather publishing data in a scientific journal edited by other researchers.

Goodyear, who has worked the Topper site since 1981, discovered the charcoal layer in May.

Thomas Stafford, director of Stafford Laboratories in Boulder, Colo., then took samples of the substance for tests at the University of California at Irvine.

The results showed that wood varieties -- oak, pine, red cherry and buckeye -- had been burned in a low-temperature fire at least 50,300 years ago, he said.

Stafford described the burnt layer as measuring 2 or 3 inches thick and about 2 feet wide. Rather than a simple black band in the soil, Stafford said the layer had the "shape of a very shallow plate."

He said it could have been the result of a fire tended by humans, or the ashes could have been deposited by wind, rain or flooding.

Other researchers were more skeptical of Goodyear's discovery, noting that previous claims of very old occupation at other sites never have been verified.

"We still need to be cautious," said Vanderbilt University anthropologist Tom Dillehay. "I would not yet rewrite the books. The find is very significant and shows that there is much we don't understand and can't easily reject or accept."

Other scientists were blunter.

"I think it's a 50,000-year-old geologic deposit," said University of Texas archaeologist Mike Collins. "It has almost nothing to do with the story of the peopling of North America."

Modern humans are believed to have emerged from Africa 100,000 years ago and spread around the world, elbowing out less capable human cousins like Homo erectus and Neanderthals.

Evidence Hints at Earlier Humans in Americas



Published: November 18, 2004

Archaeologists in South Carolina yesterday announced radiocarbon dates suggesting, they said, that people made tools on a wooded hillside near the Savannah River about 50,000 years ago.

That would be more than 35,000 years earlier than established evidence for humans in the Americas - a stunning discovery, if true, and one that some archaeologists question.

"I think it's the real deal," Dr. Albert C. Goodyear of the University of South Carolina said about the dates for some charcoal flakes found in deep sediments that also contained what he said were primitive stone tools. The dating was performed at the University of California, Irvine.

Dr. Goodyear acknowledged in a telephone interview that the research would "be extremely controversial," because some other scientists are not as convinced that the stone objects are really tools, and not naturally chipped and battered chert, or dense quartz.

The so-called artifacts were uncovered last spring as Dr. Goodyear and his team dug below occupation levels estimated to be 16,000 years old. The site, near Barnwell, S.C., is called Topper, named for the person who brought it to the attention of archaeologists more than 20 years ago.

Until recent discoveries elsewhere, the earliest Americans were once thought to be the Clovis hunters, who left finely worked projectile points across the United States, beginning 13,000 years ago. The Monte Verde site in Chile shows human occupation a few thousand years earlier, so far the oldest evidence for people in the New World that nearly all scholars can agree on.

Dr. Michael B. Collins, a prominent archaeologist at the University of Texas who excavates remains of some of the earliest Americans, said he found nothing wrong with the carbon dates. But all they did, he said, was give the age of a sediment layer.

"We are not seeing any artifacts in that older stuff at the Topper site," Dr. Collins said. "The stones were fractured by nature and ended up resembling tools."

Dr. David G. Anderson, an anthropologist at the University of Tennessee who is familiar with the Topper research, expressed concern that the announcement was made at a news conference and not in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

Unlike apes, humans were born to run, study says


Finding could help date human evolution -- but other scientists say theory is bunk

David Perlman, Chronicle Science Editor

Thursday, November 18, 2004

There's a new storm in the ranks of anthropologists who try to understand the long and puzzling history of human evolution by studying fossil evidence from millions of years ago.

A Utah biologist and a Harvard anthropologist have concluded that a dramatic anatomical shift more than 2 million years ago endowed ancestral members of our human family tree with bodies uniquely adapted for long- distance running -- a crucial difference between earlier ape-like relatives and the long-limbed forms that mark us all today.

But other experts insist that the two scientists are completely wrong and that their evidence is far from persuasive.

In a study of African fossils dating back nearly 5 million years, Dennis Bramble of the University of Utah and Daniel Lieberman of Harvard University conclude that the evolutionary change they have discovered led directly from earlier creatures -- known as the Australopithecines -- to the emergence of the first members of the genus Homo, the true ancestors of Homo sapiens.

The results of their study are published today in the journal Nature.

The evolutionary shift, Bramble said in an interview, must have given the newly evolved creatures a distinct survival advantage, most probably in scavenging dead animals for meat quickly before other scavengers -- hyenas or vultures -- could consume the meat. It also helped in escaping their own predators.

"Humans are awfully good at running, and they have exceptional endurance, " Bramble said, "and they are the only primates that engage in this kind of weird behavior -- which is why we asked ourselves how this could have happened."

In fact, Bramble said, humans and their Homo ancestors are by no means well adapted for tree-climbing. The far earlier Australopithecines -- with short, blunt legs, wide hips and curved toes -- were also bipedal but were adapted primarily for living in trees and for walking only briefly, not striding or running.

But C. Owen Lovejoy of Kent State University, one of the world's most noted paleoanthropologists, reviewed the two scientists' evidence point by point and said in an interview:

"If an animal becomes a dedicated biped, are we to presume that it would evolve without any escape strategy? How can one even conceive of evolving a 'walking' strategy that was entirely decoupled from a 'running' strategy?"

Lovejoy's argument was backed by Tim White, a UC Berkeley anthropologist and discoverer of early Australopithecines with his Ethiopian colleagues. White, who arrived in Ethiopia this week for his annual fossil-hunting expedition, e-mailed his own objections to the claims by Bramble and Lieberman: They presented "no new ideas," White said, and "abused" the fossil data they reviewed.

However, F. Clark Howell, another noted UC Berkeley paleoanthropologist who has studied hominid fossils for his entire career, called the report by Bramble and Lieberman "very important and very provocative." In an interview, he agreed the report is bound to be controversial -- and should prompt many more anthropologists to look even more deeply into the issue, because few in the field have focused on the evolution of running rather than simply walking.

"If this is true, then how did it come about?" he asked. "That's what we need to understand now."

Among the evidence Bramble and Lieberman found from their fossil studies were 26 specific traits that they say distinguished the human-like Homo habilis, about 2.3 million years ago, from the earlier ape-like Australopithecines (one of whom was the famed "Lucy"), who, some 4.5 million years ago, were the first primates to walk.

Those traits included:

-- A well-balanced head, which made it easier for it to bob up and down while running -- rather than having the head sway awkwardly from side to side, as would have been the case if Australopithecines had tried to run to escape predators.

-- A ligament running from the back of the skull and neck to the thoracic vertebrae, which acted as a shock absorber and allowed the body to rotate while the head remained facing forward.

-- Shorter forearms that made it easier for the upper body -- arms pumping as the creatures ran -- to counterbalance the lower body.

-- Larger vertebrae and disks relative to body mass, allowing the body to take a bigger load when the runner's feet hit the ground.

-- Longer legs than any of the Australopithecines, plus ligaments and tendons that, like the human Achilles tendon, could act like springs to store and release mechanical energy while running.

-- Large buttocks with muscles that would have been crucial for stabilization during running.

To each of these points, Lovejoy offered highly technical arguments dismissing their validity and terming them either "trivial" or "incorrect." Some, like the reference to long legs and the Achilles tendon in Homo fossils, Lovejoy insisted, have not been found -- so far -- in any fossils from the genus Homo, as Bramble and Lieberman contend, but only in Australopithecine fossils.

For their study, Bramble and Lieberman worked in the laboratory with the fossil bones of a species of hominids called Australopithecus afarensis, which lived throughout Africa at least 4.5 million years ago and were the first to evolve bipedalism -- the ability to walk on two legs -- but clearly could not run fast or far, they said.

Then the two scientists compared those fossils to two species of the ancestral Homo genus called Homo habilis, who lived about 2.3 million to 2 million years ago, and the later Homo erectus, dated at about 1.8 million years ago.

The differences, they concluded, seem clear: "Today, endurance running is primarily a form of exercise and recreation, but its roots may be as ancient as the origin of the human genus," they write, "and its demands (would be) a major contributor to the human body form."

E-mail David Perlman at dperlman@sfchronicle.com.

Practice what you preach


Thursday, November 18, 2004

Those who want "intelligent design" taught along with evolution in Dover's public school science classes are fond of saying: "Teach both sides and let the kids decide for themselves," and "That's the American way." But if the folks on the Dover school board honestly wanted "both sides" to be taught, why did they select a biology textbook with practically no mention of evolution and then provide a "companion textbook" that is entirely about "intelligent design"?

And if teaching "both sides" of an issue is such a great idea, why don't more churches do it? Why don't churches give equal time to teaching that God does not exist, or teaching other religions, and let the kids decide for themselves? Yes, many Christian churches claim to teach other views, but really offer only dishonest straw-man views of nonbelief and competing belief systems. What are all these churches afraid of?

Of course, churches are private organizations and thus are under no obligation to be fair and balanced, or even truthful. But you would think churches, if they had nothing to hide, would at least want to set a good example for the very public schools they often criticize for teaching only one side of an issue.

In addition, if the public schools should be presenting "both sides," then every student should be required to recite the Pledge of Allegiance with the phrase, "one nation, under God and under no God." And where the Ten Commandments are displayed on public property, other groups should also be permitted to display their views. Then let the people decide for themselves.

Who could disagree? After all, that is the American way, isn't it?


Fundamentalists create stir over classroom science


Staff Writer

Last update: November 18, 2004

The Bible may not be a science textbook.

But many religious fundamentalists believe the scriptural account of creation trumps any explanation man has come up with since.

At some Christian schools creationism remains an integral part of the science curriculum.

"I happen to believe in six literal days of creation," says Mitch Pridgen, who teaches high school science at Warner Christian Academy in South Daytona. In his classroom, he keeps a Bible on his desk, uses Christian textbooks that refute evolution, tells his students why he doesn't agree with Darwin's theory, and trusts them to draw their own conclusions.

"They're not empty-headed," he says.

At Florida's public schools, on the other hand, evolution and the "plethora of things" that scientific term encompasses is taught, according to Teresa Northrup, district science specialist for Volusia County schools. The state sets the standards, and the "curriculum doesn't mention creationism," she notes.

But nearly 80 years after the so-called "Scopes Monkey Trial" first framed the national evolution-creationism debate, the issue of what students should be taught in public school about how life began and evolved on Earth is far from settled in districts across the country.

Most recently, Cobb County, Ga., has been embroiled in a court case focusing on whether the school district had the right to put disclaimer stickers in science textbooks that say evolution is "a theory not a fact" and should be "critically considered." School districts in Ohio, Kansas and several other states also have been the focus of evolution-creationism controversies.

So far, Volusia and Flagler county public schools have not.

But "there is a well-organized and well-funded national movement to attack the teaching of science in our classrooms," contends Austin Dacey, director of research and education for the New York-based Center for Inquiry. Dacey will be the featured speaker at a meeting of the Daytona Beach chapter of the nonprofit organization Sunday.

The political climate -- following President Bush's resounding success among Christian voters -- is ripe for turning back the clock, according to Dacey, who has a doctorate in philosophy and specializes in the philosophy of science and evolutionary biology. "This is one of the most anti-science administrations in memory," he contends.

Dacey notes that the fundamentalist religious right, which has become an increasingly powerful force, is gearing up to put its stamp on public school science classrooms everywhere by promoting the inclusion of intelligent design theory in curriculums.

Intelligent design, Dacey contends, is a "very clever re-branding" of creationism. It's a "controversial philosophical and theological doctrine," he says, presented in a way that tends to be more palatable to the general public.

Dacey cautions that if it's promoted in public school classrooms at the expense of evolution, it will diminish science instruction in the United States and put the country at a serious disadvantage scientifically on the worldwide stage.

"We're already lagging behind Asia and Europe in science and technology," he says, adding, "parents, teachers, scientists and concerned citizens have to be aware of the movement."

John Calvert, a leading proponent of intelligent design, concedes that "probably the bulk of the people in the intelligent design movement are 'young Earth' creationists."

In other words, they believe the Earth is only about 6,000 years old, and the universe and all life, including mankind, came into being during the six-day span described in the biblical book of Genesis.

Calvert, a lawyer with an undergraduate degree in geology who heads the Kansas-based Intelligent Design Network, says he personally believes life began on Earth about 3.8 billion years ago. But in his opinion it couldn't have happened naturally. There had to be a designer, he says, whether God or some other supernatural force.

He and other intelligent design proponents contend that evolution is a flawed science that's the product of secular humanism, which they consider a "nontheistic religion" that's unfairly being promoted in the schools.

Dacey counters that "evolution is not a religion, it's a consensus view among scientists of how life came to be" based on accepted and academically sound research.

"There's not a college or university in the world that does research that accepts creationism or intelligent design," says Jim Strayer, a retired Daytona Beach Community College science professor, who has been especially concerned about those movements making inroads into the public schools.

"Science isn't based on democracy," stresses Strayer, and cannot be open to any and all ideas in a spirit of fairness.

"Science is based on evidence," he says. And it will survive because "people love cell phones" and want technology and medicine to advance. Those who attempt to make science fit their religion and push their agenda on the public, are doing progress a disservice, according to Strayer.

Northrup says the public schools here have "done a good job in trying to adhere to state curriculum," and, to her knowledge, no creationism or intelligent design proponents have advocated any changes here. But that's "not to say," she adds, that "it couldn't happen tomorrow."

Austen Dacey of the Center for Inquiry will speak at noon Sunday at the Red Lobster, 2735 N. Atlantic Ave., Daytona Beach. For reservation information call (386) 671-1921 or by e-mail, DaytonaCFI@aol.com.donna.callea@news-jrnl.com

Did You Know?

Origin of a controversy:

· Early European scientists, including Copernicus, Galileo and Newton, adhered to a literal belief of the Bible's account of creation.

· In the late 18th century, when geologists presented theories indicating the Earth is much older than the Bible indicates, they drew opposition from many religious groups.

· The clash between science and theology intensified when Charles Darwin published "The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection" (1859) and "The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex" (1871).

· In 1925, John Scopes, a Tennessee high school biology teacher, was tried for breaking state law that outlawed teaching anything contrary to the biblical story of creation. Despite being defended by the noted lawyer Clarence Darrow, Scopes was found guilty.

· By the 1960s evolution gained prominence in American public schools, partly in response to the perception that the Soviet Union had advanced farther in science and technology.

· During the 1980s laws were passed in Arkansas and Louisiana to require the teaching of creationism. In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled these laws were unconstitutional.

· The concept of intelligent design began to gain popularity among some creationists in the mid-1980s. Proponents hold that the ultimate explanation for the complexity of life on Earth is a designer/deity.

· In the mid-1990s, anti-evolution groups began persuading school boards to give equal time to creation science. They contend the theory of evolution contains internal contradictions.

· In 1996, the Pope issued a statement recognizing the theory of evolution.

· In 2001, the Human Genome Project released data that's been interpreted as very strong evidence for evolution. That same year, a Gallup poll indicated only about a third of Americans believe that Charles Darwin's theory of evolution is well-supported by evidence.

SOURCE: www.religioustolerance.org

Earth's Origins

In Public Schools:

"The approximate time of the origin of the Earth is 4.6 billion years."

--Biology Concepts and Connections*

In Christian Schools:

"From what God has said . . . many Bible scholars are confident that the age of the Earth is less than 10,000 years, not the millions or billions of years required by the theory of evolution."

--Earth Science for Christian Schools**

*Campbell, Mitchell and Reece, Menlo Park, Calif. 1997. p. 298.

**Bob Jones University Press, 2nd edition; Greenville, S.C. 1995. p. 265.

Phoenix Well Care Seeks Participants for NIH Study on Chelation and Heart Disease


November 18, 2004 09:01 AM US Eastern Timezone

NAPA, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Nov. 18, 2004-- Groundbreaking Large-Scale Research Undertaken to Determine Efficacy of Alternative Approach to Treatment for Nation's Leading Killer

Phoenix Well Care, a Napa Valley leader in integrative and alternative health practices, has been named a participant in a National Institutes of Health (NIH) clinical trial on EDTA Chelation therapy and high-dose vitamin therapy for the treatment of coronary artery disease (CAD), the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. The study is co-sponsored by The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), components of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). As one of more than 100 research sites across the country, Phoenix Well Care is currently looking for patients to take part in this groundbreaking large-scale alternative treatment study.

Anyone age 50 or older who has had a heart attack may be eligible to participate in this randomized, double-blind study, which will test whether EDTA chelation therapy and/or high-dose vitamin therapy is effective for the treatment of CAD. The study will ultimately enroll and follow over 2,300 patients for 5 years at a total cost of $30 million. "We invite individuals with coronary artery disease who have an interest in participating to contact our office," said Phoenix Wellness Care founder and director, Dr. Eleanor Hynote. Chelation therapy involves the use of EDTA (ethylene diamine tetra-acetic acid), a synthetic amino acid that is administered intravenously (through the veins). EDTA, which effectively speeds removal of heavy metals and minerals such as lead, iron, copper, and calcium from the blood, is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in treating lead poisoning and toxicity from other heavy metals. Although it is not currently approved by the FDA to treat coronary artery disease, some physicians and alternative medicine practitioners do recommend EDTA chelation as a way to treat this disorder. "The widespread use of chelation therapy in lieu of established therapies, the lack of adequate prior research to verify its safety and effectiveness, and the overall impact of coronary artery disease convinced NIH that the time is right to launch this rigorous study," said Stephen E. Straus, M.D., NCCAM Director. Current standard and proven ways to reduce the risks or complications of CAD include stopping smoking and controlling high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol through lifestyle changes and medication, as well as more invasive procedures such as angioplasty or artery bypass surgery. "It is important for heart disease patients to know whether we should add chelation therapy to the list of proven treatments for coronary artery disease," stated NHLBI Director Claude Lenfant, M.D. "Scientific evidence is needed to resolve this issue. And only a large clinical trial can definitively answer the question of whether chelation treatment is truly safe and effective," Lenfant added.

About Phoenix Well Care

Phoenix Well Care (PWC), founded and directed by Eleanor Hynote, M.D., is a unique Northern California medical resource providing health-optimizing, customized life care strategies and innovative skin-to-core treatments that integrate science, nature and spirit and blend the best of Western and Eastern medicine with proven, new health-enhancing approaches. PWC's team of well-respected, specialty practitioners incorporate research advances in immunology, dietary analysis, and the latest safe, natural therapies and technologies. Additional information about Phoenix Well Care and its participation in the NIH Clinical Trial on EDTA Chelation Therapy for Coronary Artery Disease is available at www.PhoenixWellCare.com or at 707-255-4172.

About The National Institutes of Health (NIH)

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) comprises 27 Institutes and Centers and investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. The NIH is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. More information about the NIH is available at www.nih.gov.

About The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) is dedicated to exploring complementary and alternative medical (CAM) practices in the context of rigorous science, training CAM researchers, and disseminating authoritative information to the public and professionals. Additional information is available at www.nccam.nih.gov or at 888-644-6226, the NCCAM Clearinghouse. About The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) plans, conducts, and supports research related to the causes, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of heart, blood vessel, lung, and blood diseases; and sleep disorders. Additional information is available at www.nhlbi.nih.gov or at 301-592-8573.


Phoenix Well CareBarbara Moss Keller, 707-255-4172 bkeller@PhoenixWellCare.com

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Faith-Based Parks?


Creationists meet the Grand Canyon

Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2004

At a park called Dinosaur Adventure Land, run by creationists near Pensacola, Florida, visitors are informed that man coexisted with dinosaurs. This fantasy accommodates the creationists' view that the Earth is only 6,000 years old and that Darwin's theory of evolution is false. Among the park exhibits is one that illustrates another creationist article of faith. It consists of a long trough filled with sand and fitted at one end with a water spigot. Above the trough is a sign reading "That River Didn't Make That Canyon." When visitors open the spigot, the water quickly cuts a gully through the sand, supposedly demonstrating how the Grand Canyon was created, practically overnight, by Noah's flood. That's nonsense, of course, but what else would you expect at a creationist park? Certainly, one might think, this couldn't be acceptable at, say, a National Park, right? Think again.

Two-thirds of the way across the continent, some four million people annually visit Grand Canyon National Park, marveling at the awesome view. In National Park Service (NPS) affiliated bookstores, they can find literature informing them that the great chasm runs for 277 miles along the bed of the Colorado River. It descends more than a mile into the earth, and along one stretch, is some 18 miles wide, its walls displaying impressive layers of limestone, sandstone, shale, schist and granite.

And, oh yes, it was formed about 4,500 years ago, a direct consequence of Noah's Flood. How's that? Yes, this is the ill-informed premise of "Grand Canyon, a Different View," a handsomely-illustrated volume also on sale at the bookstores. It includes the writings of creationists and creation scientists and was compiled by Tom Vail, who with his wife operates Canyon Ministries, conducting creationist-view tours of the canyon. "For years," Vail explains, "as a Colorado River guide, I told people how the Grand Canyon was formed over the evolutionary time span of millions of years. (Most geologists place the canyon's age at some six million years). Then I met the Lord. Now I have a different view of the Canyon, which according to a biblical time scale, can't possibly be more than a few thousand years old."

Vail's book attracted little notice when it first appeared in the NPS stores in 2003, until a critical review by Wilfred Elders, a respected University of California geologist, brought it to light and took apart its pseudoscientific claims. That led David Shaver, who heads the Geologic Resources Division of the Park Service, to send a memo to headquarters urging that the book be removed from the NPS stores. "It is not based on science," he wrote, " but on a specific religious doctrine…and should not have been approved for in NPS affiliated book stores."

The presidents of The American Geological Institute and six of its member societies also weighed in, expressing their dismay to the Park Service. Noting that the Grand Canyon "provides a remarkable and unique opportunity to educate the public about Earth science," the scientists urged that, "in fairness to the millions of park visitors, we must clearly distinguish religious from scientific knowledge."

But when Grand Canyon National Park superintendent Joe Alston attempted to block the sale of Vail's book at canyon bookstores, he was overruled by NPS headquarters, which announced that a high-level policy review of the matter would be launched and a decision made by February, 2004. So far, no official decision has been announced.

Even worse, according to the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), an organization that includes many Park employees, papers obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that no review has ever taken place. Indeed, PEER claims that the Bush Administration has already decided it will stand by its approval for the book and that hundreds more have been ordered. "Now that the book has become quite popular," explained an NPS flack to a Baptist news agency, "we don't want to remove it."

Even more troubling, PEER charges that Grand Canyon National Park no longer offers an official estimate of the age of the canyon, and that the NPS has blocked publication of guidance intended for park rangers that reminds them there is no scientific basis for creationism. The group has been increasingly concerned about what it calls the Park Service's "Faith-Based Parks" and the agency's seeming indifference to the separation of church and state Among other moves, for example, NPS has allowed the placing of bronze plaques bearing Psalm verses at Grand Canyon overlooks. PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch is indignant, "If the Bush Administration is using public resources for pandering to Christian fundamentalists, it should at least have the decency to tell the truth about it."

Is this religious bias, as some creationists charge? Hardly. It's more than likely that the majority of scientists, environmentalists and others protesting the NPS stand are themselves intelligent, rational Christians who are convinced by overwhelming evidence that the Grand Canyon is no Johnny-Come-Lately. The creationists have demonstrated again that they are scientifically illiterate, and out of step with the 21st century.

Leon Jaroff was the founding managing editor of DISCOVER, the newsmagazine of science, and was a longtime correspondent, writer and editor for TIME and LIFE.

Physics News Update 709

The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News
Number 709 November 17, 2004 by Phillip F. Schewe, Ben Stein
WHAT PROPELS A BOOK TO THE TOP OF ONLINE SALES CHARTS? Is the latest bestseller simply the product of clever marketing or has it truly permeated society? Will its popularity wane as quickly as it appeared or will the book be a classic for future generations? Though these questions seem to lay outside the realm of science, scientists can actually obtain deep insights into these issues by using the tools of statistical physics, which can predict the rates at which certain events occur, such as the number of aftershocks following a major earthquake or the number of large avalanches in a given sandpile. Using a unique database of the Amazon.com rankings of book sales, scientists (Thomas Gilbert, UC-Berkeley, 510-642-5295, tgilbert@haas.berkeley.edu) followed the chart histories of books that reached the top 50 in sales. The researchers found that the bestsellers generally reach their sales peaks in one of two ways, which they classify as "exogenous shocks" (e.g., a rave review in the New York Times) and "endogenous shocks" (e.g., word of mouth). An endogenous shock appears slowly but results in a long-lived growth and decline of sales owing to small but very extensive interactions in the network of buyers. For example, "The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood," reached the bestseller lists two years after it came out (and without a major marketing campaign) by making the rounds of book-discussion clubs and inspiring women to form "Ya-Ya Sisterhood" groups of their own. In contrast, an exogenous shock (rave review) appears suddenly and propels a book to bestseller status; however, these sales typically decline rapidly, much more quickly than those that made the charts via word-of-mouth. In either case, single triggering events (e.g., a mention on "Oprah") appear to have much less effect on the sales history of a book than the actions of interconnected groups of people, who may pick up the book after multiple conversations with acquaintances or by hearing about the book secondhand or by remembering a friend's recommendation months or even years after the book comes out. According to the researchers, marketing agencies could apply their method of classifying and analyzing bestsellers to measure and to maximize the impact of their publicity on the network of potential buyers. (Sornette, Deschatres, Gilbert, and Ageon, Physical Review Letters, prob 26 November 2004).

ATOM LITHOGRAPHY, shooting sculpted beams of atoms at a substrate, can create lines of deposited atoms with widths as narrow as 50 nm. Two groups in Holland have separately carried out experiments in which atoms, heated in an oven, released through a baffle, "cooled" by laser rays striking the beam at right angles, and then focused in optical microlenses consisting of opposing laser beams. In the case of physicists at Eindhoven University of Technology (contact Ton van Leeuwen, 31-40-2474094, k.a.h.v.leeuwen@tue.nl) the best resulting grid of iron atoms had lines only 50 nm wide and spaced consistently 186 nm apart (see figure at www.aip.org/png). The researchers expect to achieve 10-nm lines, but their chief aim is to move from producing simple grid patterns to making more elaborate patterns with holographic and other techniques. They are also pursuing a "single-point writer" option, in which the full atomic beam will be focused to a single, very intense spot. What is the advantage of such slow atom-beam approach to lithography? Mainly it is the directness of the method for inscribing microcircuitry (no etching or use of masks) and exercising great control over line width and spacing. The researchers also admit that there are imposing technological hurdles to using this approach on an industrial scale. Short-term applications would most likely be for making MEMS-like structures (teSligte et al., Applied Physics Letters, 8 November 2004; text at www.aip.org/physnews/select; lab website at www.phys.tue.nl/aow). The other Dutch group, at Radboud University Nijmegen have laid down their own grid of iron atoms with lines 95 nm in width, 186 nm apart, and covering an area of 1.6 x .4 mm^2. (Myszkiewicz et al., Applied Physics Letters, 25 Oct; contact Theo Rasing, 31-24-3653102) The two groups are now working together on some joint ventures.

AN AVALANCHE SPIN-VALVE TRANSISTOR switches a current "on" or "off"depending on whether the magnetizations of two thin films are parallel (large current) or anti-parallel (small current). Such a spintronic transistor is somewhat like the giant magnetoresistance (GMR) read heads in hard drives, but is 10 to 100 times more sensitive. The usual drawback of spin-valve transistors, a weak output current, is, in the Harvard lab of Venkatesh Narayanamurti, overcome by using an avalanche process much like the one used in photodetectors---an incoming electron ionizes several secondary electrons, each of which ionizes still more electrons, adding up in the end to a sizable current. One of the team members, Kasey Russell (kasey.russell@gmail.com, 617-496-5471) says that the extra sensitivity and strong output could lead to use of the device in magnetic storage technologies. (Russell et al., Applied Physics Letters, 8 November 2004; lab website at http://www.deas.harvard.edu/venky/research.html#overview)

PHYSICS NEWS UPDATE is a digest of physics news items arising from physics meetings, physics journals, newspapers and magazines, and other news sources. It is provided free of charge as a way of broadly disseminating information about physics and physicists. For that reason, you are free to post it, if you like, where others can read it, providing only that you credit AIP. Physics News Update appears approximately once a week.

Discovery Institute's ways need to evolve


Wednesday, November 17, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Danny Westneat / Times staff columnist

Now that religious conservatives have done well in the elections, it's a sure bet attacks on the teaching of evolution will escalate to levels not seen in decades.

When I mention this possibility to people around Seattle, I mostly get shrugs.

The attitude is: It's not our problem. If the red states want to teach their kids evolution is wrong, well, have at it.

Disengaging like this may feel good. But it ignores a key fact: Much of the assault on evolution originates right here in the bluest city, Seattle.

The corner of Third and Pike is home to the Discovery Institute, a think tank that for eight years has argued that Darwin's theory of evolution is wrong.

It should be supplanted by a new theory called "intelligent design," the institute says. The premise is that life is too complex to be explained by the random processes at the heart of evolutionary theory. So there must be a guiding hand.

Scientists haven't widely embraced this idea, to put it mildly.

But the Discovery Institute, founded by former Secretary of State Bruce Chapman, is on a bit of a roll these days, anyway.

The institute just had its first intelligent-design paper published in a biology journal. The article was later renounced by that same journal, but still it was a bit of a watershed.

Last month, a school district in Pennsylvania became the nation's first to say intelligent design could be taught as an alternative to evolution.

That exceeded even the stated goals of Discovery, which hopes, for now, only that schools will begin teaching that evolution is "a theory in crisis." The institute has lobbied for changes in science curricula in a number of states, including Ohio and Georgia. "We are making a great deal of progress getting people to realize there are legitimate scientific criticisms of Darwinian theory," said John West, an associate director at the institute.

That last part is OK with me, even though I think it's wrong. So far there haven't been any serious holes poked in evolution. But there's no harm in asking tough questions.

My problem is with the focus on public schools. If you've got new, untested ideas, then publish them. See if they survive decades of scientific scrutiny, as evolution has done.

Feeding them to school boards — many under pressure to ban the teaching of evolution altogether — is a cheap way to get questionable ideas into the mainstream. It's truly a waste of school time.

West says Discovery has no religious agenda. Isn't the existence of an intelligent designer a question of faith? A primary source of Discovery's funding, The Maclellan Foundation, gives only to groups that work to "subdue the institutions of man to the authority of Jesus Christ," says its Web site.

In other areas, Discovery is a great resource. It studies issues such as transportation with a spirit of intellectual pursuit.

But when it comes to evolution, there isn't much discovering at the Discovery Institute. They know what they believe. If only they could get you — or your kids — to believe it, too.

Danny Westneat's column appears Wednesday and Friday.

Reach him at 206-464-2086 or dwestneat@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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